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Friday, October 21, 2005

Richard Addinsell's Warsaw Concerto

So, I recently heard Richard Addinsell's Warsaw Concerto on my local Classical Music radio station and I was pretty impressed by it. It is not a typical concerto in that it only has one movement. Also, it is extremely brief, with an average duration of just under 10 minutes. However, it has become pretty famous nonetheless.

The "concerto" was featured in the 1941 British film Dangerous Moonlight, later known as Suicide Squadron. Originally, the filmmakers wanted to use Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2. Instead, they decided to commision a similar work from Addinsell along with orchestrator Roy Douglas.

The film revolves around the main character who is a Polish piano virtuoso who also happens to be a combat pilot who finds himself in England during the Battle of Britain taking refuge from the German occupation of Poland. In the movie, he is the composer of this work, which repeatedly reappears as incidental music and also in a concert which is worked into the story of the film.

The work contains almost every bit of passion and nostalgia as that of Rachmaninoff's. Audiences of the movie loved the concerto, which quickly found its way onto recordings and various sheet music adaptations. Just like Rachmaninoff's concertos, the theme of the Warsaw Concerto was even used for popular songs, in this case the song "The World Outside."

The opening of the concerto is quite dramatic in the style of Grieg's Piano Concerto in A minor with a thundering piano entrance supported by timpani. In the second theme, Addinsell borrows from Rachmaninoff quite heavily with an extremely lyrical passage. However, one should not think less of the composition for its borrowing, because it is a very skillful work indeed. Much music of this nature has appeared in films, but Addinsell's concerto struck a chord with listeners who were at such a dark point in history in 1941.

For more on Rachmaninoff's concertos, see my previous posting.

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